Linsey McNeill and family venture off piste in Courchevel, but in the trusty hands of an expert guide...
"We've just had one of our best ever days skiing, as a family, with the New Generation ski school in Courchevel 1650.
Run by Tom Saxlund, who is half-British, half-Norwegian, New Generation offers an exciting alternative to the long-established ESF national ski school in French ski resorts. Unlike the ESF, all of New Generation's coaches are fluent in English, and all are qualified to the highest level.
New Generation, established 15 years ago, is now in nine popular ski resorts: La Tania, Meribel, St Martin De Belleville and Courchevel in the 3 Valleys, Serre Chevalier, Tignes, Val d'Isere, Vallandry and the Swiss resort of Verbier.
It offers a range of options from group lessons, for two to eight skiers or boarders, to private lessons and its increasingly popular technical clinics for more advanced skiers who want to iron out bad habits. It also offers ProXplore day-long guiding sessions, and one-off ski sessions for those looking to learn or perfect a particular skill such as powder skiing or bumps and children's lessons. "All of our instructors have a particular passion and a skill," New Generation's sales manager in Courchevel, Sara Fernie-Jones.
We joined Tom for a taster of the ProXplore guiding sessions, when he took us to ski Courchevel's classic off-piste route, Les Avales. Having never really strayed very far from pisted runs before, I was slightly nervous when he arrived at our meeting point with four rucksacks filled with avalanche gear, but he reassured me that the equipment was only 'just in case', and the avalanche risk that afternoon was actually pretty low.
Les Avals starts with a 10 to 15-minute hike across a steep slope to a ridge, from where a long off-piste route leads back to Courchevel 1650. I found the hike in ski boots and carrying my skis over my shoulder pretty tough, but the view when we arrived on the ridge was worth it. All around us lay a blanket of pristine, virtually untouched snow, just waiting for us to dent it with our own tracks.
Tom led he way, testing the snow as he went, constantly scouring the surrounding slopes for signs of avalanches. When he was sure it was safe for us to follow, he'd wave us on. My kids, aged 12 and 14, bounced through the powder after him and I followed in slightly less elegant fashion, occasionally planting face first in the snow.
All the while, Tom patiently corrected our technique, telling me to look further ahead, keep my weight over both skis and to increase pressure on my uphill ski to turn. The scenery was tremendous, the kids were buzzing at finally getting to experience some full-on back country skiing - and I was so shattered at the end that I nearly fell asleep over afternoon tea back at the Ski Total chalet!
A five-hour ProXplore session costs €99pp for three to six people, which is not cheap but it's likely to be the highlight of any ski holiday.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
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